Just over five years ago, the congregation I served in suburban St. Louis decided to close its Early Childhood Center, prompting a discussion about our future. We were exploring different options and along the way we brought another nearby church into the discussion. It became clear that we were headed for a merging of the two churches.
We sought the assistance of the Minnesota District Mission Board (DMB) to guide us in the right direction. After running a demographic study of our area and talking to our leaders, the district mission board agreed to take this merger on as a project. They helped us secure unsubsidized mission status, which, among other things, gained us access to a mission counselor who helped us through the process. He recommended books to read (Better Together by Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird was the most helpful). After he made several visits to the area and sat in on some meetings, he gave our churches some advice as we finalized the plan.
One congregation. One site. Double the staff. Double the resources. Double the outreach effort. That was the plan.
This past fall we celebrated our fifth anniversary at our united church, Christ Alone.
Looking back, not everything went according to our plan. There were missteps and miscommunications, especially in the early going. Doubling the people led to disagreements, ranging anywhere from how the two church cultures would meld together to which of the two sets of paraments would adorn the one altar. Doubling the volunteer pool led many volunteers cutting their own involvement in half. New responsibilities were not clearly communicated, which led to the Great Paper Towel Shortage of Easter 2018. (Many casualties.)
Having the mission counselor as a sounding board was important. He kept reminding me that a church merger doesn’t work if it’s survival-driven. It must be mission-driven. Holding out the mission in front of members must remain the priority. It was our why. We did not only do this so that our institution would survive, but rather that Christ’s kingdom would thrive.
In the fall of 2017, Christ Alone consisted of roughly half the members coming from one church and half from the other church. Although we really think of ourselves as one congregation today, our members could be identified in thirds. One third from one church. One third from the other. And one third of the members are brand new to Christ Alone—some brand new to Christ—whom God brought to us over the past five years.
God knew what he was doing from the beginning. Though our hands were a little wet, we were still able to open our hymnal pages to Jesus Christ is Risen Today that first Easter together. Though there was a clash in cultures, Christ has brought about unity. Though it hasn’t all gone according to our plan, God is providing opportunities for us that were not previously possible.
While not every situation would be necessary for the district mission board to get involved, congregations who find themselves considering a merger may want to reach out to a member of their DMB. Doing so will certainly result in some sound wisdom, possibly a mission status designation, or, if the Lord wills, maybe even becoming one of those 75 mission enhancements that will accompany the 100 new mission churches over the course of the next ten years.
Written by Pastor Steve Waldschmidt, pastor at Christ Alone in Dardenne Prairie, MO, and Minnesota District Mission Board Chairman
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